Why I moved to Moscow

Yesterday I went for a walk in Moscow. I walked across a covered bridge and was greeted by a familiar sound. “Irasshaimase”, the voice boomed. I looked to my left and spotted a Japanese vending machine. I peered closer and saw that all of the drinks inside were Japanese too. This simple sight brought back such strong memories. As I continued my walk I felt confused and disoriented. A feeling that you can only understand if you have called more than one place your home.

Japanese vending machine in Russia

Most people are surprised that I moved to Moscow. Russia seems like a scary place to most, a place with a dark past, a dark present and maybe even a dark future. Wheras Japan seems like utopia, it’s clean, safe and culturally rich. Moscow seemed like the kind of place I could be happy, be myself.. In many ways it’s the antithesis of Japan, that’s just what I needed. I’ll talk more about Japan in another post.

Before I went travelling I asked advice from an old friend and colleague. Along with living in Hong Kong and travelling South East Asia she lived in Moscow. Her face lit up when she talked about Moscow. She was so inspired by living there that she started a blog. My mind suddenly went into overdrive about Moscow and Russia. It seemed like such an exotic place, mysterious too. Little did she know that she planted a seed that day and ever since Moscow has always been in the back of my mind.

Its 2013 and I’m in Laos. I’m in a steam room and wearing only a small towel to cover my dignity. The heat and humidity become to much for me so I step outside, gasping for air. I sip tea and watch the people walking into the steamrooms. They are segregated by sex. A ladyboy covered in makeup strolls out of the changing room and enters the female steam room. A smile sneaks onto my lips and my eyes make contact with a guy across the room. He’s also smiling.

He walks across the room and we start talking. He says that he lives and works in Moscow and he has done for years. Even though I’m in Laos I find his tales of snow and Oligarchs fascinating. I feel butterflies in my stomach.

I’m falling for Moscow.

Fast forward two years. I’m alone in my small apartment in Japan. I’m lonely and isolated. The Japanese culture makes me feel uneasy at times. I find it claustrophobic and fake. I decide to look online for jobs in foreign climes. After applying for a few jobs in Hong Kong and Korea I come across a job vacancy for Moscow. I don’t apply for it but it sets off a frenzy of internet searches. I’m hungry for information about this exotic land. Unsurprisingly there’s very few blog posts about people who have actually lived there. People who know the real Russia.

My crazy internet searches lead me to Coursera course about understanding Russians, contexts of intercultural communication. The more I learn about Russian culture the more I want to live there, to experience it for myself.

A statue in Victory park
A statue in Victory park
VDNK park
VDNK park

I start to apply for jobs in Moscow. Many were poorly paid but I  am offered a few well paid ones. I accept one and thats how I end up in Moscow. Alone but not afraid. Starting afresh once again.

I started working here in September and I do a job that’s very different to my last one. I’m not just an English teacher but a home room teacher for a class in a Kindergarten . The job allows me to be creative, something I missed when working in Japan. I also get to enjoy the personal aspects of teaching. Rather than teach a class and retreat to the staff room or scurry to another class like in Japan, I’m with the same children all day so I get to actually know the children.

Although it’s not easy, it’s a lot more rewarding.

In short, I moved to Moscow because of a feeling. Something called me to live here. Now I just need to work out why!

 

Have you ever lived abroad? If so how did you decide what country to live in? Do you belive in fate or that you were called to live in a specific country?

St Basils cathedral in Moscow
St Basils cathedral in Moscow

First impressions of Laos from the Slowboat

I rolled out of bed onto the slippy, bright blue tiled floor and quickly started getting ready. My back was aching due to multiple springs from the mattress assaulting it through the night and my eyes squinted in the morning sun peeking through the grey, dusty curtains. I was staying in a dirty motel in a sleepy border town in Northern Thailand.

Today I would take the slow boat to Laos.

Fast forward 6 hours later and we were finally in Laos, Slowly punting along the mekong river and sitting on old car seats. I was sipping on a beer, playing card games and talking to fellow travellers. we made sure to sit at the front of the boat as the roaring engine was at the back of the boat, replete with swirling black fumes.

I looked outside and saw the scenery change. Children played on the river banks in the distance, naked an unashamed. Rolling hills passed by, coloured with uncountable shades of green. Every so often a large fish would rise from the water and cause an audible splash as rippled headed to the slow boat.

I looked into the distance and saw what looked like an elephant. I looked again and it actually was an elephant. Completely alone, bathing itself on the river bank. squirting water onto it`s sandy body from it`s long wrinkled trunk. Was it a wild elephant or was it`s owner just out of sight?

The boat landed in Pakbeng, a small town about halfway between the Thai border and Luang Prabang.

This was where we would spend the night.

Elephant bathing in the Mekong river
Elephant bathing in the Mekong river

Children rushed from the town to greet us, friendly smiles and vigorous waves. Some even swam towards the boat through the murky water, displaying wide smiles as they reached the boat.

I shared a room with a Dutch girl, a double bed. Our room was small yet clean. One of the guys brought up a round of beers to the balcony. `Here`s to Laos!`, he proudly proclaimed as we all chinked glasses, watching the sun set in the distance, highlighting the grey clouds swirling around the mountains with a golden hue.

Laotian children rushing to meet the slowboat
Laotian children rushing to meet the slowboat
The best view to enjoy a beer with
The best view to enjoy a beer with
The packed slowboat
The packed slowboat

Laos ended up being one of the favorite countries that I visited on my RTW trip. It was so different to the other countries. So poor, not so friendly. I felt that it was still scarred, still recovering from the `secret war`. Laos was carpet bombed during the Vietnam war because the Ho Chi Minh trail ran through part of Laos. If bombers couldn`t deploy bombs on Vietnam they simply disposed of them in Laos. Phonsavan in Laos is the most bombed area in the whole world. This beautiful and peaceful country still pays for a war it was never a part in.

I urge you to visit and see it`s gentle beauty and learn about it`s unsettling history.

Have you ever been to Laos? if so what were your first impressions?  

Life Update

It’s been a while since my last post, a long while.

 

In that time a lot has happened. It seems like I havn’t had a minute to myself. Every moment has been filled with planning and doing. I even managed to fit in time at home and visit the UAE in between.

If you follow me on my Facebook  page you’ll know what’s happened.

I moved to Russia.

Moscow to be exact. Although the move was well needed times have not always been easy. Moscow is an amazing city but in some ways it’s the complete opposite to Japan.

It will take a lot of getting used to, but I absolutely love it so far.

 

I still have a lot to write about my life in Japan and I already have so many stories to tell about my new life in Russia.

As soon as my life settles down I will write more. I really can’t wait to share all of my stories with you.

I know one thing for sure, my life is certainly not boring.

 

Let me know if you have any questions about my new life in Moscow or the move from Japan.

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The Beach: Oh Thailand, what are you doing to me part 2

The morning light caught my face as I lay in the comfortable bed of my guesthouse. I woke up and walked to my bathroom/oasis and freshened up. Compared to the hostel from hell this place was absolute luxury and I relished privacy and the lack of horny Italian men.

Way back when, Thailand was just a dream to me. I`d watched the film `The Beach` and dreamn`t that one day I would make it. I did manage to make it in 2013 when I travelled from the other side of Thailand just to see `The Beach`.

I had no plans for the day, the sun was shining so I decided to revisit my old pilgrimage spot.

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When I climbed on the rickety long tail boat  memories started flooding back. I instantly regretted booking a long tail rather than a more expensive speed boat. I was in for an adventure.

The salty sea stung as it flew up towards my face. My unruly hair made a break for it as my hair bobble disintegrated and abandoned ship. The driver of this boat was in a hurry and he wasn`t going to let 6 foot waves slow him down.

We skimmed across the sea, occasionally dipping into a wave causing a bucketful of sea water to soak us. Eventually we make it to Monkey island and ravenous monkeys started clamouring on the boat.

Rather than giving the monkeys bananas or other monkey appropriate food stuff, the driver of the boat handed a can of full sugar coke to the monkey who casually grasped it and retreated to the safety of a nearby tree. The monkey deftly opened the can by the ringpull and swigged the can of coke in one, not spilling a  drop. He then crushed the can with his tiny fingers and threw it into the sea and went back to posing for photos with tourists.

Monkey island was quite bizarre.

A monkey actually eating a healthy banana rather than a can of full fat coke...
A monkey actually eating a healthy banana rather than a can of full fat coke…

The next stop was viking cove for a spot of snorkelling. As I remembered the snorkelling was amazing and I saw so many fish and a sea turtle. It was quite upsetting seeing tourists kicking the delicate, bleached coral and spying crushed coral next to the boats anchor.

Last time I visited Maya Bay I had to climb up a slippery staircase to reach the island. I prayed that the boat would land us directly in the bay, but alas, 400 Baht will not buy you that luxury.

We parked the boat at the edge of a cove `Ok, Maya bay, you swim there` the boat driver said, gesturing over to a muddled mound of  twisted rope. Shit. Last time I must have been here at high tide, now it was low tide and it wasn`t just the stairs I had to contend with but over 10 feet of intertwined rope.

But I`m a world traveller, I`ve done this before and I`m strong. This would be easy for me.

The rope 'ladder' at Maya bay
The rope ‘ladder’ at Maya bay

I jumped off the boat into the water, the waves felt stronger than they looked on the boat. I swam as fast as I could towards the rope, trying to stay far away from the waves crashing on the sharp rocks to my right.

I reached the rope but my struggle was not over yet. People clung to the rope in pain, struggling to traverse it In front of my a hysterical woman was being calmed down by her boyfriend. I have no boyfriend, I`m here alone and have to fend for myself.

I pushed past the woman as courteously as I could, my skin slipping across her smooth tanned skin. I pulled myself up and climbed as fast as I cold, ignoring the searing pain in my feet and my British manners. I made it to the slippery stairs and carefully held on, pushing past the nervous women, sinking my feet flat on the wood to try to keep my balance.

At the top of the stairs I heaved a sigh of relief. I made it! I slowly walked down the stairs and was surprised to find myself sitting at the bottom. Like in 2013 I slipped down the stairs….

The slippery staircase
The slippery staircase

Once in the island it was as beautiful as I remembered. I met a lovely German girl on the boat who showed me her new bamboo tattoo that she got on the island. We swam, took photos and enjoyed beautiful Maya Bay before making our way back to the boat, down the treacherous stairs and ropey assault course.

We had a few drinks at a beach side bar to celebrate the fact that we were still alive and made plans to meet for dinner later. I had a Thai massage to ease my aching muscles.

As I was walking towards my guesthouse I came across a scuba diving shop. The guy there was friendly but not overly flirtatious like the other dive shops so I decided to book a spur of the moment dive for the next day. The instructor said that the boat would sail to shark point, the best place to see sharks n the area apparently.

I had always wanted to scuba dive with sharks. What could go wrong?

Maya bay. It really is beautiful.
Maya bay. It really is beautiful.

Find out in part 3 of `Oh Thailand, what have you done to me?`

Top three things to do in Utsunomiya

Utsunomiya is the main city of Tochigi prefecture, a place that`s consistently voted one of the most boring prefectures of Japan.

Many people are underwhelmed with this city and see it as just a gateway to Nikko, one of the most culturally rich places in Japan.

Don`t wipe Utsunomiya from your itinerary though. This city has lots of hidden gems and it`s a pleasant place to spend an afternoon before you head back to the Metropolis of Tokyo.

1) Eat Gyoza
Throughout Japan, people say one thing when they hear someone say Utsunomiya, Gyoza! Utsunomiya consumes the most gyoza in Japan and in my opinion the restaurants in Utsunomiya are the best. You can try regular gyoza, fried gyoza, gyoza wrapped in chicken skin or my favourite; gyoza covered with spring onion and smothered in mayyonaise.

Wherever you choose to eat gyoza, you won`t be disappointed! Be sure to get a photo with the gyoza statue in front of the station too!

Famous Utsunomiya Gyoza
Famous Utsunomiya Gyoza

2) Futaarayama shrine
I was walking along the grey streets in Utsunomiya when I looked up. Prched on top of a small hill overlooking the city was an absolutely beautiful shrine. I decided to investigate and suprised to find a relaxing and ornate shrine with great views of the city.

It`s a great place to relax whilst exploring the city. Be sure to check out the orange tori gates and the dragon statue at the area where you cleanse before praying.

Address: 1-1-1 Babatori, Utsunomiya 320-0026, Tochigi Prefecture

 

shrine utsunomiya

dragon shrine

3) Kayabuki Izakaya (Monkey Izakaya)
In a dark street in Utsunomiya, in an unsuspecting, plain building is Kayabuki Izakaya. Only notticable because of the monkey wood carving at the door.
In the early evening it`s just another izakaya, serving alright beer, gyoza and basashii (horse sashimi); albeit a smelly one. At around 7 or 8 depending on how many customers there are, the monkeys come out to play. Sometimes the whole family comes out, about 4 full grown monkeys and 2 baby monkeys or sometimes there will just be one or two `waitresses`.

when I visited the izakaya was quiet so we got time to play with the monkeys and pose for photos. The monkeys were extremely lively and jumped around on us without a care in the world. Some monkeys were dressed up in creepy outfits and some were forced to wear extremely disturbing masks and wigs, like a simian version of a maid cafe.

After photos, one of the monkeys acted as waitress and scurried across the izakaya, picked up a wet napkin and gave it to me.

All in all it`ts good fun and a unique experience. The monkeys can only work up to 2 hours a night and they seemed well cared for. be aware that you will pay a non optional `tip` for playing with the monkeys, in my opinion it`s worth it.

Izakaya Kayabuki (Miyuki-honcho 4688-13, Utsunomiya-shi, Tochigi Prefecture, tel. 028 662 3751)

monkey izakaya utsunomiya

monkey izakaya

Monkeys

A scary encounter in Tokyo

I’ve always talked about how safe living in Japan is. Since I’ve lived here I’ve not felt scared once. That’s a big contrast to the number of times I’ve felt scared in England and in other countries when travelling.

It’s just safe, isn’t it?

One weekend I was in Tokyo. I spent the day exploring the old quarter of Asakusa. I prayed at Senso Ji temple, got my fortune read (A bad one…) and ate delicious okonomiyaki, one of my favourite Japanese dishes.

I was having a pretty good day.

I was staying in a Japanese style business hotel and was the only woman staying there that night. Despite this I felt perfectly safe whilst I was there, even if I did have to share a bathroom with all the men.

I wandered to the local 7-eleven to get some snacks and drinks for the evening. As I turned back onto the main street and walked towards my hotel, an old man appeared in front of me.

At first I just thought he wanted to practice English with me. Even in Tokyo there’s not that many foreigners so many people strike up conversation. Then it dawned on me. It was 10pm, pitch black and I was alone.

I don’t think he wanted to practice English.

I looked at him and was instantly mesmerised by his insanely long fingernails. He held out his hand making a kind of ‘Okay’ sign and started to shout ‘Money, money, money!’, aggressively in English.

I was still perplexed about what he wanted. Why does he need money? Then it dawned on me that this was not a kind and friendly old Japanese guy but someone who was confident enough to approach a 5’8.5 woman on a main road in Tokyo.

So I ran.

I only ran a short distance but I could hear his wheezing behind me. He was following me. I took a risk and stopped and turned back, He was shirking away back into the shadows.

At first I was perplexed about what happened. Then it dawned on me that he could have been trying to mug me, he may have even had a knife. The most probable explanation is that he’s a crazy old man or a desperate homeless man.

I walked back to the hotel as fast as I could. My heart beating fast and my mind racing. It affected me much more than it would have in a different country. I feel safe in Japan so wasn’t expecting any confrontation.

It reminded me to keep my wits about me a little bit more in Japan. Not to take the feeling of safety for granted.

At Sensoji temple in Asakusa
At Sensoji temple in Asakusa

 

Have you ever had an aggressive or violent incident happen to you in a supposedly ‘safe’ country? What happened and what did you do?

Feeling homesick as an Expat in Japan

No matter how much someone likes travel, there really is no place like home.

Home means comfort, safety and love. It’s a place you know you belong and a place where you fit in. Unfortunately when you live in Japan, home literally is thousands of miles away.

I wrote about the first time I felt homesickness when I was in Sri Lanka during my ten month sabbatical. I was in an extremely different country to any that I had visited before and I was away from home for 19 days, the longest time I had ever spent away from my family and friends.

When you travel, homesickness comes out of nowhere. One minute you are having the time of your life and the next it feels like a bullet has shot through your heart. It’s fast, painful and extremely confusing.

The good thing about home-sickness when travelling is that it usually goes away as fast as it came. When you travel there are new people to meet, new places to visit and it’s very easy to forget about that pain in your heart.

Last night I sat on my floor sofa, in my new house in Ibaraki Japan. Living in a house has been quite confusing. It feels like I live in a traditional English terraced house and sometimes I forget where I am. I sat on my sofa and daydreamed. Usually I daydream about the places that I want to go and the things I want to experience in life, but this time was different.

I dreamt of the rolling hills of Wales stretching out before me, never-ending. I dreamt of the wind rushing through my hair at the Albert Dock in Liverpool as I ran alongside the Mersey. I dreamt of sitting in my parents house, with my niece on my lap, helping her form her first words.

I dreamt of normality. Of the life I used to live.

It’s quite ironic that when I lived in England I would daydream about travelling and living in a foreign country. Now I’ve made my dream a reality I daydream about the life I used to live. Life is cruel.

The hardest thing about homesickness as an expat is that it doesn’t come thick and fast like homesickness when you are travelling. It slowly seeps into your life. You start to compare the country you live in to your home country, remember things through rose-tinted glasses and forget about the hardships. You start to think that life is better back home, when is it really?

Before you know it this slow type of homesickness causes you to lose it. Big style. Last night I was in tears thinking about the life I could be living. Today even with the benefit of a clear mind and hindsight I still feel a lingering sadness. I think this bout of homesickness will be hard to recover from.

But I know it’s all just an illusion. Life isn’t perfect back home, it’s just different. I am now living my life, making my life be what I want it to be. I’m a fighter and I will fight through this homesickness.

After my recovery I’ll fall in love for the second time with the country I now call home, Japan.

And we all adore the feeling of falling in love, don’t we?

 

Enjoying Sakura beer under the cherry blossoms inmy new home of Ushiku
Enjoying Sakura beer under the cherry blossoms inmy new home of Ushiku

Are you an expat? Have you ever felt homesickness when living abroad? Did anything specific trigger it? What helped you recover from homesickness?

 

Celebrating Songkran in Bangkok

New Years-eve in the UK usually consists of either a house party, paying an extortionate amount to drink at a bar you go each week or freezing to death outside whilst watching fireworks tumble into the sky as the clock strikes 12.

Pretty tame eh?

When I was travelling on my RTW trip, I was so excited to see that I would be in Bangkok during Thai New Year (Songkran). A few days prior I had holed up in a smart hostel in Silom, a place where I’d heard would be the centre of the action. I met a travel blogger friend at the hostel and on the first day of Songkran we walked outside the hostel totally unprepared for what was about to happen.

Cold water rushed up my nostrels and in my eyes the second I went outside. As soon as I gained my vision I could see three young Thai children all aiming at us with big, powerful supersoakers in their slender arms.

So this was how they celebrate New Years in Thailand?

Songkran is a three day holiday from April 13-15. It’s essentially one big water festival and the streets of Bangkok hault to a standstill for three days whilst young Thais have the ultimate water fight. The water represents  purification and the washing away of sins and bad luck.

However for many Thais and travellers it’s just three days of Chaos!

And no-one is safe! 

I saw a family check into a hotel across the road. As they struggled with heavy bags they were soaked from all angles and a cheeky boy even ran across and smeared thick clay across the fathers face.

I’ve never seen anyone look so angry!

Songkran is not the time to get pissed of at people soaking you with water. Be prepared to be soaked for three days straight so make sure you check in to your hostel at least the day before to avoid unwanted attention.

If you are prepared, you will have an incredible time. One you will never regret and a chance to bond with the funny, cheeky and smart Thai people.

Super soakers

The first thing to do is choose your weapon. We chose the biggest and most expensive super soakers we could find and I think It’s a sound investment. Having a big water gun means that you can soak people far away. Handy when people are squirting you from moving motorbikes, buses or pick up trucks! (Yes I don’t think there is any health and safety in Thailand!).

An adorable Thai boy with his massive super soaker!
An adorable Thai boy with his massive super soaker!

Clay

Many people in Thailand wear clay on their faces daily as a form of sun protection. During Songkran it’s tradition to wipe a small amount of clay on peoples cheek and wish them a ‘happy new year’. My first encounter with clay was when an extremely attractive Thai guy slowly smeared the cool clay across my cheek in Silom. After that I was hooked and would wipe clay on any attractive passers by!

Covered in clay and absolutely soaked = a sucessful day of celebrating Songkran
Covered in clay and absolutely soaked = a sucessful day of celebrating Songkran

Buckets

Oh the dreaded buckets! In Thailand buckets are usually associated with drinking large volumes of alcohol at night in Khao San road. During Songkran some cruel souls pour whole buckets of ice cold water over unsuspecting victims. In the heat of the day this can feel heavenly but as the sun sets it feels absolutely horrible. Just remember to get them back with either your supersoaker or clay bucket.

 

Khao San and Silom

Khao San Road and Silom are the epicentres of the celebration . The roads close and the areas become unrecognisable for three days as thousands of revellers pass through the streets. There is such a party atmosphere, loud dance music plays and there are stalls selling alcohol and water top ups at the side of the road. In Silom there were Thai girls in skimpy outfits performing on stage (They still got soaked!) and a Thai fire truck absolutely blasted gallons of water everywhere in the street.

It really was crazy!

Craziness on the streets of Khao San Road
Craziness on the streets of Khao San Road
The streets are absolutely packed!
The streets of Silom are absolutely packed!
Thais selling extra water, and also preying on unsuspecting victims!
Thais selling extra water, and also preying on unsuspecting victims!

What to wear

You will get absolutely soaked the moment you step outside so wear something that isn’t see through and that won’t fall down when wet. Buy a plastic dry bag for your phone and money and make sure that it’s always locked. I have very few photos of the celebration because water is thrown in your face literally every couple of metres. No-one is safe from the fun, even if you are holding your expensive camera in your hands.

Where to Stay

I would reccomend staying near the action in Silom or Khao San Road. The buses run infrequently during Songkran and it’s extremely hard to get a taxi or tuk tuk. If you do end up getting one you will pay an inflated price.

However it’s extremely fun to soak people from the safety of a bus or a tuk tuk, until you stop at a traffic light and everyone turns and soaks you (and the driver!).

Oh Thailand!

In the evening

As the sun sets, less water is thrown but you may still be someones target so still keep your valubles in a dry bag. As the sun set we headed to the Gay area of Bangkok to enjoy a few beers and a cheeky water fight with ladyboys and tourists. So much fun!

Songkran is a must see event for people travelling through Thailand. Although I had an amazing time celebrating it in Bangkok, I hear that Chiang Mai and some of the islands celebrate just as hard! Just remember to have fun and lighten up for three days. No matter what you are doing, you will be a target!

Our friends waving to us from across the street!
Our new friends waving to us from across the street!
Soaked, covered in clay and with my new Thai friend who wears balloons down his top, because, why not?
Soaked, covered in clay and with my new Thai friend who wears balloons down his top, because, why not?

 

 

Have you celebrated Songkran in Thailand? Is so what did you think? Did you celebrate in Bangkok? What’s your weapon of choice?

I’m moving to Ushiku, Ibaraki!

I’ll let you in on a secret.

Last summer I was regretting my decision to move to Japan. I found Japan an extremely frustrating place to live and found the culture quite claustrophobic.

I was done.

Then I spend a week or two in one of my favourite countries in the world, Thailand. So many bad things happened to me during that trip to Thailand that I let out a sigh of relief as soon as the plane landed at Narita airport. Japan may have it’s faults but it’s an amazing country to live in. It’s so safe, has friendly locals and a fascinating culture.

I fell back in love with it.

Fast forward four months to Christmas time. Once again the resentment for Japan built inside of me and part of me didn’t want to board the plane back to Japan. Work is a big part of why I moved to Japan and unfortunately I was placed in a big, unfriendly school where teachers would openly ignore me.

I knew one thing. As soon as my contract finished in March, I would leave Japan.

As soon as I landed back in Japan something changed. I started to understand the culture more, the language more and I started to appreciate it. I loved the fact that I could walk anywhere, alone, in the pitch black and still be safe. I loved Tokyo. My favourite city in the world, A crazy city where anything goes.

I realised I didn’t hate Japan.

Like any great relationship, there’s highs and lows. Japan has dealt me many lows but also many highs too.

I wasn’t ready to give up on Japan.

When it came to renewing my contract I knew one thing. I needed to move areas. Nasushiobara is a great place to live but it’s just too rural for me and too far away from Tokyo. Growing up near Liverpool I’m used to being close to the sea and I miss just walking along the beach, staring off into the distance.

Ushiku

 

Ushiku

Ushiku port

My company has offered me a new job in Ushiku, Ibaraki. I will live in a bigger town with a Starbucks, Walmart and lots of great restaurants. In just two train stops I will be at the coastline and it’s just a 1 hour direct train to Tokyo!

Ushiku is famous for having the largest standing Buddha in the world. As a Buddhist i think this will make it a very spiritual place to live.

I have just one week left in Nasushiobara and I’m making the most of it. Each day I’m trying to visit my favourite coffee shops, parks and restaurants. Today I went on an 8km hike around my local area and noticed so many beautiful things.

The best part about moving to Ibaraki is that I will be living in an actual house! On two floors! After a year in a tiny studio Leopalace I will love having all the extra space and being able to live and sleep in different rooms.

See you in Ibaraki!

Sakura

 

Trying Kobe beef in Kobe

I must have been a teenager when I first heard about Kobe beef. I was watching a TV programme that said it was the best meat in the world and it’s only found in Japan. The cows were reportedly massaged daily and given beer instead of water to drink, secrets to make the meat so tender and succulent. This sounded so quirky, so Japanese. The cattle seemed to be living my ideal lifestyle too!

Kobe beef (Wagyu beef) is from a special breed of cattle that resulted from breeding Western and Japanese cows, as demand for beef consumption increased after the end of WW2. Unfortunately the cattle are not fed on a diet of beer or massaged but they’re fed a diet high in grains.

Kobe cattle produce beef with delicately marbled fat. This fat is so fine that it melts at room temperature. Although Wagyu beef can be bought around the world, Kobe beef is the original and the best quality.

I had to try it!

Unfortunately a world renowned delicacy like Kobe beef doesn’t come cheap. Some restaurants offer lunch time specials but the price is still extremely high. Out of my poor English teacher budget. I initially walked into a restaurant to try it, tempted by the cheap prices outside. I found out they were not the prices for Kobe beef so I swallowed my pride and up and left to find something more to my budget.

Hidden in the outskirts of Kobe’s vibrant China town is a stall that sells small individual portions of kobe beef. For just 1200 yen ($12) you can taste this delicacy and still afford a bed for the night.

The bigger the portion, the higher the price. I ordered the smallest portion as I just wanted to try it. It wasn’t enough for a full meal but just enough to try this exclusive delicacy.

The stall where I bought my beef
The stall where I bought my beef
Cooking my Kobe beef!
Cooking my Kobe beef!

So what does it taste like? Kobe beef should be cooked rare and I was pleased to still see some pinky blood on my portion of Kobe beef. The fat melts during cooking and the beef has a smooth, velvety taste and a subtle flavour that lingers in the palate for hours. It’s decidedly Japanese.

It was worth the 16 year wait! 

Mmmmm
Mmmmm

 

 

Have you ever tried Kobe beef? If so what did you think? Would you try Kobe beef in Kobe, Japan?